Mark has been driving the readers with energy and drama toward this culminating event of Jesus’ life. This is the purpose for which he came. This demonstration of his own faithfulness to death, even the death of the cross, a manifestation of his perfect righteousness alongside the manifestation of humanity’s absolute depravity summarizes all that has been presented by Mark to this point. Radical unbelief gives way to an immediate expression of faith. Those who should have known are replaced by one who had no prior advantages in the redemptive mystery of God.
I. Jesus, the Holy One, was crucified by pagans between two criminals.
A. Jesus had gradually seen every point of support for him humanly slip away.
- After the beautiful time at Passover (punctuated by the leaving of Judas to begin the execution of his betrayal), he had seen his most intimate circle of friends fall asleep during the tense time of prayer in Gethsemane.
- Judas arrived with a mob, knowing where Jesus would be. As recorded by John, “some officers” sent by the chief priests and Pharisees were to arrest Jesus. This was an event that Jesus saw as a direct fulfillment of Scripture (14:49).
- He was tried before a prejudiced council who brought in false and inconsistent witnesses and finally was convicted of blasphemy when he came forth clearly with the truth of his Messiahship (14:62–64).
- Immediately he was beaten and mocked for his status as consummate prophet ((14:65). This brutal treatment Jesus received for bearing the truth of his Messianic offices. Such response explains why he was hesitant to allow every person toward whom he showed mercy and power to spread the knowledge of his work indiscriminately.He had an hour, and he need not rush it.
- Then one of the sleepy inner-circle, Peter, who earlier had confessed the true identity of Jesus, now subject to pressurized trauma, denied knowledge of Jesus (14:71). He had slept three times as Jesus prayed; now, he denies the Lord, with increasing energy, three times, as Jesus endured torture and humiliation.
- The clear-sighted (15:4, 5, 10) but cowardly (15:15) Roman procurator Pilate scourged him and handed him over for crucifixion. Even when he asked, “What evil has he done?” (14), they gave no answer but only made the demand that Jesus be crucified.
B. Now we see the mocking of the Gentiles. Having been betrayed by a follower of three years, denied by one of the inner-circle, rejected by the leaders of his own people (Mark 15:1; John 1:11), and sentenced unjustly by the Roman monitor of justice, Jesus is placed into the hands of men whose training and commission is brutality and death (15:16–20).
- Mark omitted the interlude of mocking and contemptuous treatment he received before Herod (Luke 23:6–12) in which Jesus’ kingship was ridiculed.
- Pilate, having consented to the crucifixion of Jesus, turned him over to the soldiers that they might finalize the preparations for this gruesome form of capital punishment. As this preparation proceeded, they took advantage of such a lowly and hated commoner to give vent to their propensity for jest and crudity. After all, the subject was detested by his own people and on the verge of death. What was the harm of that?
- They invited all the members of their battalion that were present in Pilate’s headquarters to join with them in this brief frolic. It could have been up to 200 men. They engaged in a cruel irony. Already purpled in blood and bruises they robe him in a like color to mock his consent to kingship (15:2) and heighten the contradiction between this claim and his condition of helplessness. Their salutes to him were in the form of continual striking and their shouts of mocking praise were perforated by their foul spittle.
- The crown was not merely common and inglorious hay or branches but the positively cruel and painful tapestry of thorns, pressed on his brow; little did they know that they showed that he was indeed becoming a curse for us (Genesis 3:17b-18a; Galatians 3:13).
C. It is to this group that Peter refers in the sermon at Pentecost when he accused the Jews, “You crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
The idea of lawless men could mean their intrinsic spirit of refusing to be ruled by any external standard of legal procedure or of common decency, or it could mean specifically the Gentiles “who have not the law,” (Romans 2:14).
D. Paul refers to them as the “rulers of this age,” (1 Corinthians 2:8) who would “not have crucified the Lord of Glory,” had they understood the decree of God.
The merciless and scurrilous behavior of the soldiers was natural to them, but God’s decreed purpose was hidden from them. They were void of any perception of the infinite glory and power of the person they abused with such sarcastic abandon. They had no knowledge of the glorious and just work of God permeating their cruelty. Had they perceived the overwhelming and majestic power of the glory of God as being worked out in the very events that they were executing, they, out of a sense of fear and ultimate self-preservation, would have refused to be anywhere near those events.
E. Though the entire incarnation constituted an emptying for the Son of God, it was peculiarly in these moments until the consummation of the spiritual and physical agonies of crucifixion that the greatest absence of the manifestation of his intrinsic glory and infinite dignity as Son of God took place.
In the moments that were most strictly endured to the glory of God (Ephesians 1:6, 7; John 12:27, 28) and in demonstration of love to man (Romans 5:8), we find the most thorough hiding of personal glory.
F. Then they led him out to the place of a skull, Golgotha, to crucify him.
Upon crucifying him, they divided his clothes between them (the spoils of their exalted position as executioners), cast lots for the exquisitely woven seamless robe, having attached the sign above his head dictated by Pilate “The King of the Jews.” A more ironical combination of disrespect and truth could not be imagined.
G. The society he enjoyed in his crucifixion, among whom he was centered as the chief offender, were convicted criminals, both of whom initially ridiculed him.
They picked up the insults from the surrounding crowd and hurled them at him (Matthew 27:44). Seeing Jesus’ lack of retaliation, but instead only words of mercy, kindness, patience and perfect resignation, one of the thieves concluded that these insults were actually true claims and that Jesus was the only righteous person present at the scene and the one who held the keys to the kingdom of God (Luke 23:39–43).
II. Jesus, the Holy One, was ridiculed by sinners.
They manipulated words of his and claims he had made into the substance of their abusive, venomous railing. The world has never witnessed such a radical moral distance between the evil of the accusers and the goodness of the accused as in these hours at Calvary.
A. They ridiculed him for his claim to raise the destroyed temple in three days.
Jesus, on the first occasion of his cleansing of the Temple, had said, defending his authority over the temple and all matters of divine worship, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They had leveled this accusation at him during the trial in 14:58. John explained, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:21, 22).
B. When they said, “Save yourself and come down from the cross,” (30) they showed their complete (and hostile) ignorance of the nature of the redemptive work of the Messiah.
He came to give himself that others might be saved. This taunt was extended by the mocking words, “He saved others. He cannot save himself” (31). This is true, but a mere ridicule in their mouths justifying their rejection of the signs of power, authority, and compassion he had performed. Since he came to “give his life a ransom for many,” had he saved himself, he could not have saved others.
C. “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down . . . that we may see and believe” (32).
- They knew that in both his actions and his words he laid claim to the position of the expected Messiah. No matter how strong the evidence, however, they would not believe. Not only did they misperceive who he was, they had no idea of what it meant to believe. Had he come down, they would not have believed in a saving manner, for they still would have no hatred for their own sin but only fear for their safety. Though true belief involves assent to the credibility of what is proposed, the change of heart that brings true repentance and saving faith must be produced by the powerful and purifying operation of the Holy Spirit.
- They knew that he claimed to have a kingdom that would soon be manifest, but they had no concept of the nature of an internal rule in the hearts by grace that would culminate in a powerful visible rule at a final judgment.
- Again, they show their complete lack of knowledge that the Christ would die for the sins of others to save them (Isaiah 53:5 – “We esteemed him smitten of God and afflicted, but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him”). Had he come down, they could not believe, for there would be nothing in which to believe. It is, in fact, Christ’s righteousness, including his obedience unto death, that brings about the entire sphere of faith, both its object and its manifestation: “To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
III. Jesus, the Holy One, was abandoned to holy wrath and bereft even of common graces on the cross.
The descent of darkness (33) implied that even natural mercies available to all—“He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45)—were removed from him so that he is treated as one who is evil— “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines brighter unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness” (Proverbs 4:18, 19).
A. Other gospels fill out the picture of how Jesus responded to different phases of his time on the cross.
- Jesus asked for forgiveness for the drivers of nails (Luke 23:34).
- Jesus made sure that his mother would be cared for (John 19:26, 27).
- Luke records words of assurance to one of the thieves whose heart was changed in knowledge of his personal sin and the messianic innocence of Jesus (Luke 23:39–43).
- After his cry of abandonment, he said, “I thirst,” (John 19:28), indicating that now relief from the physical torture was possible—the price had been paid. Earlier (15:23), Mark records that they offered Jesus wine mixed with myrrh and he refused it. He could not deaden any of the physical aspects of his suffering. Mark in verse 36 probably has this request of Jesus in mind when they gave him a drink of sour wine on a sponge.
- His verbal confirmation of the completed redemption came in the words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It could be seen as, “The purpose has been brought to completion.” To this as well as the next word, Mark condenses into the words, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (39).
- Then he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The body would be committed to the tomb to await his resurrection, while his spirit he committed immediately to the Father, where he would await also the believing crucified thief. The words in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell, crucified, dead, and buried” were fulfilled during his suffering on the cross as he underwent the full range of propitiatory and expiatory suffering for the forgiveness of sin. His body being committed to the grave showed that he had taken death upon himself and was now positioned to show his triumph over it.
B. Mark ended the sayings of Jesus with the statement of abandonment: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
That in this moment the ransom had been paid (10:45) Mark wanted to emphasize in Jesus’ own experience. After that verbal indication, an exquisitely mysterious and ineffably painful moment of realization, of which Jesus had keen unsuppressed sensory experience, Mark brought his narrative of the crucifixion to a quick end. He recorded that “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (37)
- Whether Mark has in mind, “It is Finished,” (John 19:30) or “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” (Luke 23:46), he wanted to show that Jesus still had vigor at the time of his death, for he uttered a “loud cry.” It was thus that his death was voluntary, not only, “for the joy set before him,” submitting to all the events in obedience to the will of the Father, but that he controlled the moment that he would breathe his last, even as he does of all other living things. None took his life from him, but he gave it of his own accord (John 10:17, 18).
- Every aspect of Jesus’ suffering, both physical and spiritual, was necessary for the full satisfaction of sin’s penalty. When the unsaved are assigned their just judgment to hell, the suffering will be both in body and soul. For Jesus’ suffering to be propitiatory, he must endure this aspect of substitution in its full measure. This moment, however, brought the most severe, poignant, and necessary aspect of his work to culmination.
- Jesus was expressing his conscious awareness that active divine wrath was now at its most intense fulfillment of his appointment to die the just for the unjust. Active wrath surrounded him, supported by no common mercies.
- Yet even in this, Jesus testified to his acknowledgement of God as the one inflicting this wrath. It was just and the very thing that God had determined before the foundation of the world would take place. This God, even in this moment, was His God—the very one with whom he had consented eternally to shed his blood that he might reconcile sinners to him (Hebrews 13:20, 21).
- The “Why” contains, not a doubt, but a genuine request that some demonstration of the reason for this abandonment would be given. Unto what end has this wrathful abandonment taken place?
IV. His suffering bore the fruit of salvation. This is the demonstration of purpose for which Jesus asked.
A. The veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom.
The veil with all its multicolored hues of purple and red represented his body, now torn in death, as providing an entry into the holy of holies for all sinners who would be purged and made righteous by his blood. The rending of the veil of the temple thus signified the end of all the ceremonies and types that now were fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. By the shedding of the blood of his body, Jesus opened for us a way behind the curtain that divided the people from the high priest on the day of atonement. This rending of the veil symbolized that no more sacrifice was needed, the way into the presence of God was now made clear through the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:19–22).
B. The confession of the centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God,” comes from one for whom Jesus had prayed in the first moments of the crucifixion, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
- His confession showed that he heard and understood the words of Jesus on the cross, how he had the authority to ask forgiveness for others, why he refused but later accepted the offered drink, how he addressed God as the chief perpetrator of the events of the cross, and how he addressed this God as his Father.
- Also, it shows that he knew when the purpose of this horrific event had been consummated. His mind and heart were impressed with the eternal truth intrinsic to these events. This centurion was “standing right in front of” Jesus, and “saw the way he breathed his last,” with strength still present and with resolve to lay down his life in this sacrificial event. The soldier became the first, after the death of Christ, to give the confession of faith. The words of forgiveness (“Father forgive”), completion (“finished”), and the words in which he surrendered physical life (“Father, into your hands”) moved him to his final reception of the truth in confessing Jesus as Son of God.
- The testimony of the soldier also presents us with an immediate fulfillment of Jesus’ words, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” He obviously knew the accusations put against Jesus by the Jewish political and religious powers, he had seen the patient suffering of Christ, had heard his words, and now, seeing the manner of his death is convinced that, in spite of all the ridicule and doubt of the accusers, Jesus’ testimony to himself is true. Jesus has begun gathering to himself by the certain efficacy of his redemptive death the people of every tongue and tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9).
- The soldier had confessed with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, and soon would hear and believe in his heart that “God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9–13).
In the place that was his mission evil men were all around—
To his sides and straight before him cruel words and taunts abound.
Precious teacher, healer, prophet, why in such distress you’re found?
“Temple wrecker, law corrector, King of Jews, you claimed to be.
Save yourself if you saved others; come down from the bloody tree.”
Love and grace toward his tormentors kept him bleeding, made them free.
God withdrew all common mercies, actively imposed his ire.
God of ages, why these torments, to what end do they conspire?
Are they fruitless? Will they conquer? Will they saving faith inspire?
With a shout of consummation, Jesus said the work was done.
Rent the veil from top to bottom, sin’s defeated, heaven’s won.
A soldier saw and heard it all, said the victim was God’s Son.
Mercy rich was in his dying, grace filled every act of life.
By his blood he wrought redemption, won salvation through his strife.
Jesus is the way to glory, braving wrath and hatred rife.